Publications:

[5] "Job Loss and Behavioral Change: The Unprecedented Effects of the India Lockdown in Delhi"
Kenneth Lee, Harshil Sahai, Patrick Baylis, and Michael Greenstone. 2020.
Covid Economics 51(7): 134-58 | BFI Working Paper No. 2020-65

Abstract: On March 24, 2020, the Prime Minister of India announced the world's largest COVID-19 lockdown. We summarize the initial impacts of the lockdown for a representative sample of mostly poor and non-migrant workers in Delhi. Using Facebook mobility data, we show that intra-city movement dropped 80 percent following the announcement. Using microeconomic survey data, collected before and during the crisis, we highlight three patterns. First, the lockdown resulted in significant economic costs, with income and days worked falling by 57 and 73 percent, respectively. Second, the lockdown resulted in widespread compliance with public health directives: mask usage rose by 73 percentage points (pp); time spent indoors increased by 51 pp; smoking decreased by 13 pp; and handwashing rose by 10 pp. Third, the economic impacts of the lockdown were somewhat mitigated by government food assistance, which 36 percent of our sample accessed. Over the first seven weeks of the lockdown, we do not observe alarming levels of hunger, scarcity, access to medical care, or security. Yet in our data, concerns remain about mental health, supply chains, and personal savings, against the backdrop of a rising infection rate. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether public health compliance will persist, as the novelty, fear, and media coverage of COVID-19 subside.



[4] "Does Household Electrification Supercharge Economic Development?"
Kenneth Lee, Edward Miguel, and Catherine Wolfram. 2020.
Journal of Economic Perspectives 34(1): 122-44

Abstract: In recent years, electrification has re-emerged as a key priority in low-income countries, with a particular focus on electrifying households. Yet the microeconomic literature examining the impacts of electrifying households on economic development has produced a set of conflicting results. Does household electrification lead to measurable gains in living standards or not? Focusing on grid electrification, we discuss how the divergent conclusions across the literature can be explained by differences in methods, interventions, potential for spillovers, and populations. We then use experimental data from Lee, Miguel, and Wolfram (2019) — a field experiment that connected randomly-selected households to the grid in rural Kenya — to show that impacts can vary even across individuals in neighboring villages. Specifically, we show that households that were willing to pay more for a grid electrification may gain more from electrification compared to households that would only connect for free. We conclude that access to household electrification alone is not enough to drive meaningful gains in development outcomes. Instead, future initiatives may work better if paired with complementary inputs that allow people to do more with power.



[3] "Experimental Evidence on the Economics of Rural Electrification."
Kenneth Lee, Edward Miguel, and Catherine Wolfram. 2020.

Abstract: We present results from an experiment that randomized the expansion of electric grid infrastructure in rural Kenya. Electricity distribution is a canonical example of a natural monopoly. Experimental variation in the number of connections, combined with administrative cost data, reveals considerable scale economies. Randomized price offers indicate that demand for connections falls sharply with price, and is far lower than anticipated by policymakers. Among newly connected households, average electricity consumption is very low, implying low consumer surplus. We do not find meaningful medium-run impacts on economic and non-economic outcomes. We discuss implications for current efforts to increase rural electrification in Kenya, and highlight how various factors may affect interpretation of the results.

Media coverage:
VoxDev [07/19], The Economist [02/19], VoxDev [01/19], Oxford Institute for Energy Studies [08/18], Forbes [03/18], The Star (Kenya) [08/16], DEM+ND (ASME Global Development Review) [04/16], Reuters [07/15]






[2] "Appliance Ownership and Aspirations among Electric Grid and Home Solar Households in Rural Kenya."
Kenneth Lee, Edward Miguel, and Catherine Wolfram. 2016.

Abstract: In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are active debates about whether increases in energy access should be driven by investments in electric grid infrastructure or small-scale “home solar” systems (e.g., solar lanterns and solar home systems). We summarize the results of a household electrical appliance survey and describe how households in rural Kenya differ in terms of appliance ownership and aspirations. Our data suggest that home solar is not a substitute for grid power. Furthermore, the environmental advantages of home solar are likely to be relatively small in countries like Kenya, where grid power is primarily derived from non-fossil fuel sources.

Media coverage:



[1] "Electrification for "Under Grid" Households in Rural Kenya."
Kenneth Lee, Eric Brewer, Carson Christiano, Francis Meyo, Edward Miguel, Matthew Podolsky, Javier Rosa, and Catherine Wolfram. 2016.

Abstract: In Sub-Saharan Africa, 600 million people live without electricity. Despite ambitions of governments and donors to invest in rural electrification, decisions about how to extend electricity access are being made in the absence of rigorous evidence. Using a novel dataset of 20,000 geo-tagged structures in rural Western Kenya, we provide descriptive evidence that electrification rates remain very low despite significant investments in grid infrastructure. This pattern holds across time and for both poor and relatively well-off households and businesses. We argue that if governments wish to leverage existing infrastructure and economies of scale, subsidies and new approaches to financing connections are necessary.


Media coverage:
Stories - Quartz [01/17], Foreign Affairs [08/16], NPR "All Things Considered" [07/15], ClimateWire [07/15], GSMA [07/15], Blum Center for Developing Economies [10/14], GSMA [09/14], USAID FIRM [08/14], Energy Institute at Haas [08/14], Center for Global Development [07/14]